Civil engineering student's outside interests lead her to journalism

Caitlin Gailey
November 09, 2016
Lexi Shimkonis was four years old when her family took a summer vacation to the Outer Banks in North Carolina. It was on this vacation that she witnessed the relocation of the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse, something many children would have considered insignificant. For Shimkonis, however, it was different. What she saw stuck with her.
 
Seventeen years later and more than 500 miles away, Shimkonis is now pursuing a civil engineering degree at Penn State in the hopes that someday she can be a part of something similar to what she witnessed that week.
 
“I was always enamored by not only how they could just pick up and move this massive structure but also land erosion and what kind of measures could be done to prevent such depletion of the coast in inhabited or otherwise protected areas,” said Shimkonis.
 
It wasn’t until high school that Shimkonis realized that her interest could yield a career one day. She discovered that protecting structures and the ground they’re built on fit perfectly into the realm of civil engineering.
 
Now a junior, Shimkonis is excited to continue exploring the different technical areas civil engineering has to offer. In addition to majoring in civil engineering, she is pursuing a minor in environmental engineering.  
 
While she spends much of her time focusing on engineering, Shimkonis has another passion that exposes her to a very different vocation. In high school she served as yearbook editor where she discovered she enjoyed writing and events coverage. She knew she wanted to continue her love for writing, while still pursuing her engineering degree but wasn’t sure how.
 
Her freshman year of college, she applied for a position as copy editor at Onward State, even though she knew little about the organization. By the end of the semester, she was promoted to a full-time staff member and the news editor. Shimkonis has taken on many roles in the semesters that followed and is now a co-managing editor of the publication’s blog along with two other students.
 
Being the only engineer on staff at Onward State has undoubtedly given her a different perspective when it comes to improving the site. Being outside the realm of journalism and communications has allowed her to be more critical when it comes to the content they publish.
 
Typically engineers don’t concurrently work as journalists, but Shimkonis said she wouldn’t have it any other way. 
 
“For me, journalism is a nice escape from the technical world of engineering,” said Shimkonis. “So much that I’ve learned at Penn State has come from being a member of Onward State, and there’s so much that I never would have learned in my classes.”
 
If earning a civil engineering degree and working as a writer wasn’t enough for the sleep-deprived student, she has also taken on an internship with Penn State’s Office of Physical Plant (OPP), on the Civil Team in the Design Services department. She primarily works with AutoCAD, annotating drawings, updating the campus basemap and adding information about various utilities for different projects.
 
One of the larger projects she has been working on involved the American Disability Act-compliant ramps across campus that lead to Beaver Stadium.
 
“If you’ve ever noticed at the point where you cross the street there are scores in the concrete. This is so visually impaired people can feel the change in texture and know they’re about to cross into traffic,” said Shimkonis. “The standard is to have a section of truncated domes instead of scores in the concrete and there are certain specifications that each crossing must meet. I’ve done a lot of sidewalk measurement and analysis to help in the design of these new ramps.”
 
Although she enjoys all the projects she works on, the one she is most proud of is an 8-foot long section of sidewalk between the Electrical Engineering West Building and Hintz Family Alumni Center that Shimkonis designed herself.
 
Shimkonis said the internship has given her the opportunity to apply what she has learned in her classes and given her a different perspective on her industry.
 
“I learned a lot about what I want to do as an engineer, but I also learned what I don’t want to do,” said Shimkonis.  “I think that’s an important part of interning and why getting experience is so important and helpful. It’s been really cool to see how campus works from the inside and learn even more about Penn State.”
 
From journalist, to interning engineer, to regular student, Lexi Shimkonis is somehow finding the time to do it all. She is currently on track to graduate in spring 2018 and is looking forward to a possible summer internship with a company closer to the coast, where she may be doing work similar to the lighthouse relocation that peaked her interest in engineering many years ago. Shimkonis also plans on continuing with journalism.
 
“I hope I’m always able to write and stay involved with Penn State in one way or another,” she said. “I’ve learned so much about how the University operates, and I’m able to appreciate Penn State in a really unique way.”
  • Lexi Shimkonis headshot

    Civil engineering junior Lexi Shimkonis spends her free time writing for Onward State.

    IMAGE: Penn State

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Last Updated November 10, 2016